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A Discussion With Amirah Vann & Robert Christopher Riley On Exploring The Horrors Of Domestic Violence On ‘Underground’

March 15, 2017
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NOTE: This includes very light spoilers from episode 202, “Things Unsaid,” which airs tonight on WGN America.

This season of “Underground” is shaping up to be incredibly explosive, and only one episode has aired so far. One of the most enthralling aspects of this season has been the storyline around Amirah Vann’s character Ms. Ernestine and the domestic violence that she experiences. Separated from her entire family and enslaved on a rice plantation in South Carolina, Ernestine has found herself attached to an extremely volatile man.

Ahead of episode 202 “Things Unsaid,” I spoke with Amirah Vann and Robert Christopher Riley who plays Hicks, Ernestine’s lover and abuser on the series. We spoke about domestic violence within the institution of slavery, present-day advocacy, and their heartbreaking storyline.

Aramide Tinubu: Slavery was obviously a very brutal institution, but we don’t often consider the violence that occurred amongst enslaved people themselves. Did you know much about Hicks’ journey and trajectory before signing on to do this season of “Underground”?

Robert Christopher Riley: There was specific scene towards the end of the season which was the audition scene. It has a very long monologue, and if you pay attention, it’s all in there. At that moment, you learn who this guy is. I’m no stranger to any of our history, American or Caribbean. So, looking at Hicks’ story and what he’s gone through and obviously what he’s letting pass through him and the behavior that he’s mimicking; slavery was horrific for everyone.

AT: What about you Amirah? Did you have any idea that this would be Ms. Ernestine’s journey this season prior to reading the first few scripts?

Amirah Vann: I didn’t know prior to reading the first few scripts. The writers have such fantastic imaginations. They have an idea of where the journey is going, but they definitely keep things to themselves as they progress because they are always open to doing something else and taking things in a new direction. But once I read the first few scripts and I knew, I was thrilled because it’s another opportunity to speak and give voice to a really important crisis worldwide. I also knew that there was going to be a multitude of people who could identify and hopefully be helped in some way.

Continue reading at Shadow and Act.